Everything seemed to happen in slow motion instead of fast-forward this time. Vlad's companion pulled out a silver knife and shoved me to the ground. Vlad made no attempt to avoid Marty's assault, but kept his grip on the charred vampire and widened his stance as if daring Marty to take him down. It was dark, but I thought I saw Marty's determined expression the instant before his body crashed into Vlad's. As if trapped in a nightmare, I watched Vlad absorb the blow while remaining on his feet, his deadly free hand erupting in flames as he reached for my friend.
"No!" I screamed.
Instead of running like Marty commanded, I flung myself at Vlad. My right hand landed on his leg, desperation making those hated inner currents rocket from me and into him with far more power than normal.
With my panic and the voltage I'd channeled from the light socket, Vlad should have been blown clear across the parking lot. Instead, he remained where he was, the only effect a shudder wracking him and the smell of ozone briefly overcoming the scent of smoke. That flaming hand snatched Marty up before I registered that he'd moved, and then Vlad's dark head swung in my direction, bright emerald eyes meeting my shocked gaze.
"That," he bit out, "was rude."
The sight of him restraining two struggling vampires was the last thing I saw before my vision went gray. The parking lot and burning hotel vanished, replaced by towering trees and a twisting, ice-filled river.
I knelt by its rocky bank, my clothes soaked, but I paid no attention to the cold. I couldn't feel anything beyond the pain that roared like an inferno through my veins, building until I threw my head back and howled at the overwhelming anguish.
The woman in my arms didn't react. No breath stirred her lips, and her eyes continued to stare sightlessly ahead. I clutched her closer, more agony ripping through me as if it were my body that had been broken beyond repair instead of hers. For all my new power, I had never been more helpless. Death had stolen her away, and she would eternally remain beyond my reach.
That knowledge made a new howl erupt from my throat, despair mixing with the grief that threatened to rend me apart. This was my doing. The river might have washed away all traces of her blood, but I would forever carry its stain on my hands.
"Hold them," a curt voice directed.
The woman, river, and forest vanished, replaced by billowing smoke and the Red Roof Inn parking lot. Marty was still alive, to my vast relief, though he looked like he'd gotten a good scorching. Vlad handed him and the other, far more charred vampire over to his friend. I was on the ground, kneeling, tears streaming down my cheeks from reliving Vlad's darkest memory. To be honest, I'd expected a far more gruesome image after touching the fire starter, but what scarred his soul appeared to be loss, not murder.
Once Marty and the other vampire were secured, Vlad knelt next to me. His hands were no longer engulfed with flames, but that might be because the fire truck had pulled up and that would draw too much attention. The wailing siren seemed to pierce my skull with its screech, but though vampires had better hearing, Vlad didn't seem bothered by it.
"Stop crying," he said shortly. "I'm not going to kill you, if that's what you're so hysterical about."
He thought I'd fallen sobbing to my knees because I was afraid to die? The lingering echoes from his anguish made my ironic snort come out more like a sniffle.
"Those tears were yours, not mine. Whoever she was, you were really broken up over her death."
His brows drew together. He was close enough for me to notice that despite igniting several things-and people-he didn't have so much as a charred speck on him.
"What nonsense is this?"
"Don't tell him anything, Frankie," Marty hissed.
I looked up at my friend, but Vlad's cold voice snapped my attention back to him.
"Take them away, Shrapnel. I'll catch up with you later."
I stopped myself before touching Vlad in instinctive appeal. Electrocuting him again wouldn't help my cause.
"Don't kill him, he was only trying to protect me. That's Marty, and he didn't know that I, ah, called you. He probably thought you were with the crew that kidnapped me."
Poor Marty. He'd followed Jackal and the others, biding his time until he thought the odds were better. How could he have known that Vlad was tougher than four other vampires combined? Of course, if Vlad had already made up his mind to kill Marty, my plea not to harm him would fall on deaf ears. He was capable of murder, but the memory I'd pulled after touching him made me hope there was more to Vlad than his tendency to torch people.
His features hardened. "What memory?"
Right, he had mind reading abilities. That made Marty's urging not to tell Vlad what I'd seen pretty much moot.
"You and the dead woman by the river," I replied. "I told you I pull images from people or things I touch. I saw her when I touched you, and I was crying because I felt everything you felt that day."
He stared at me with such unblinking intensity that it hurt to hold his bright gaze. I didn't look away, though. He might be able to read my mind, but I'd ripped open the wound he held closest to his soul. The least I could do was not take the coward's way out by staring at the ground.
"Keep them both alive, Shrapnel," Vlad said at last. "I'll rejoin you later."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the other vampire nod. Then he just . . . vanished. Either teleporting was another vampire ability Marty had neglected to mention, or Shrapnel moved faster than greased lightning.
Vlad stood, his eyes changing from glowing emerald back to burnished copper.
"You're coming with me," he stated, holding out his hand.
I looked at it but didn't move to take it. "So you are reneging on our deal."
"I don't like being called a liar, which is something you'd do well to remember," he replied in a tone that made shivers of trepidation run through me. Then a small smile touched his mouth. "We need to talk, and there are too many people here for that. You know I can overpower you despite your unusual talent, so the smart move would be to take my hand."
Yeah, I was aware that he could overpower me. I'd given him the biggest dose of voltage I'd ever harnessed and it hadn't so much as made him lose his balance. Right now, it wasn't just the smart move to take his hand. It was my only move.
I reached for him with my left hand. He ignored that, mouth twisting as he clasped my right one instead. A current slid into him, but he didn't pull away.
"Sorry," I muttered.
He let out a short grunt. "I can handle the effects from your touch if you can."